There is much discussion around the purpose and benefit of events as part of major donor fundraising. Many charities fall into the trap of believing that putting on a series of events will attract new major donors and cultivate existing event supporters into becoming significant funders of projects.

There is some merit in this as our interviews with major donors do show that events play a part for many donors, but there is little evidence that the cost and time of producing events are the most effective way to source gifts from wealthy individuals. It is also important to consider that large contributions made at events are often transactional and so the profit to the charity can be minimal.

We recently interviewed 50 major donors to a range of charities, of different sizes and with differing objectives. When we asked about attending charity events we found the following:

  1. Around 75% of major donors do attend events run by charities they support
  2. There is no clear disparity between male and female donors in event attendance
  3. Only 25% viewed events as the lead factor in making their major gift

This told us that event attendance is often due to the gift, rather than the prompt for the gift; donors were often invited to events post-gift and attended as it was a cause they had donated to and wanted to further engage. Events were also seen as a way for major donors to introduce potential new donors to their supported charity.

The number one factor that led to a donation was in fact engagement with services. This includes direct volunteering with service delivery, being asked about future service development, becoming a trustee or Patron, working alongside the charity in a professional capacity and spending time with delivery staff.

This helps us understand where events fit within major donor strategies. 1 in 4 major donors derive from fundraising events; for the other 3 in 4 donors it is part of ongoing thanking and stewardship. The distinction is important as a poorly mapped out major donor plan will focus on events as the primary source of major donors, rather than as a key activity to maintain relationships with key supporters. Taking donors as close to the cause as possible is the most effective way to prompt major gifts, so should be the focus of any major donor strategy.

For further advice on major donor insight and strategy development please contact us.

Notes on major donor survey:

  • Conducted in 2016-17
  • Random sample of 50 active major donors
  • All gifts between £1,000 and £100,000
  • 26 men and 24 women were interviewed